Lessons from Vacation Planning

Group Of Women Sitting Around Table Eating Dessert

It was almost the end of senior year at the university. Four close friends — Sarah, Maria, Andrea, and Kaitlin — were preparing to celebrate the momentous achievement of earning a degree. To make their upcoming graduation even sweeter, each had found employment that would begin a few weeks after they received their diploma. These girls had plenty to celebrate.

To make some final memories before they headed off into the work world, they decided to take a trip together. They quickly realized, however, that each one of them had a different idea of what constitutes the perfect vacation.

Sarah dreamed of spending days relaxing by the ocean, doing little besides napping by the water, swimming, and enjoying fantastic food by night.

Maria desperately wanted to explore some fantastic cities. She had never been to New York City and thought the excitement of the Big Apple would be perfect.

Andrea agreed that cities sounded perfect, but she thought one of the historic cities of Europe sounded more appealing — a dose of culture along with the excitement of a city.

Kaitlin was interested in an active vacation, and exploring the Grand Canyon sounded like the perfect adventure to her.

As the girls worked to reconcile their different ideas of vacations, Sarah started laughing. The girls turned to her with confusion and asked what could possibly be so funny. Sarah sighed and said, “I’m going to work for a marketing firm in two months, and I know part of my job is going to be developing buyer personas for a startup. I learned in class how important it is to really understand your buyers, but we’ve all demonstrated this lesson far more clearly than any textbook.”

Here’s what Sarah meant.

Marketing one-on-one

Customers expect personalized marketing. General information that leaves questions about the value of products and services won’t engage them. Thanks to the Internet, customers are now in control of the beginning of the buying process. They can read online reviews and research companies long before they make a purchase.

To answer this consumer need, companies must learn how to market to their customers on a one-to-one basis. This requires knowing customers on a personal level and knowing what they seek. In-depth buyer personas are essential for this task.

Using buyer personas for personalized marketing

A well-developed buyer persona will mean understanding details far beyond gender and level of education or job. For example, all of the girls in the opening story were college-educated women in their early 20s, but they also had vastly different interests. A quality buyer persona will include information about budgets, pain points, goals, and roles within a company.

Using this information can help you determine the questions buyers are likely to have. This can guide the creation of content and marketing materials that speak directly to potential customers.

The more precise you can make your marketing materials, the more effective they’ll be. Identifying buyer personas is an excellent way to refine marketing efforts and better understand exactly who will be responding to campaigns. If you’re interested in improving your marketing efforts, speak to us today. We’d be happy to help you learn more about how to market to your intended audience.

Online Reviews: How to Learn from the Good and the Bad

Speech Bubble Icons

Constructive criticism is one of the most powerful tools available to businesses of all types today. After all, who better to tell you how you’re really doing than the people you’re supposed to be pleasing in the first place? Thanks to the Internet and the scores of online review sites that have cropped up over the years, you don’t have to look very far anymore for someone’s honest opinion of a product or service, especially now that everyone has an equal voice in the proceedings.

However, the key word in the phase “constructive criticism” is “constructive.” Online review sites tend to be a collection of overwhelmingly negative reactions, regardless of whether or not they have any basis in fact. As a result, many people tend to immediately discredit them or wash their hands of online reviews altogether. In reality, there’s a huge amount you can learn from both the good and the bad online reviews — provided you know how to wade through the noise and find it.

Overwhelmingly Positive Reviews: Not as Overwhelmingly Helpful As You Might Think

Overwhelmingly positive reviews can be a great boost to your confidence as a business professional. They can be a great indicator that you’re on the right track and that you’re meeting the expectations you set for yourself when you started a business in the first place.

Unfortunately, these overwhelmingly positive reviews that give your business 11 out of 10 stars aren’t telling you anything you can actually use to make your organization better. Make no mistake: you are never as perfect as you think you are. Every business, regardless of industry, always has room for improvement. While a dramatically positive review may be a nice pat on the back, it isn’t something you should necessarily spend too much time thinking about.

Negative Reviews: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

When people are angry, their emotions tend to take over. This is evidenced in just about every one-star review you’ve ever read for a product or service online. They’re usually lengthy diatribes about how “everything was awful” and tend to even mention things that a business can’t necessarily control, like the way the post office handled a delivery.

It can be easy to quickly dismiss these types of reviews, but you really shouldn’t for a simple reason. At the core of the one-star review is still a dissatisfied customer you can learn from to make your business better in the future. Try to go through a negative review and delete all sentences that are pure emotion. A sentence that says “this is the worst company ever” has nothing valuable to tell you. Once emotion is gone, you’ll be left with a much clearer indication of what really happened.

The Math Equation of Constructive Online Criticism

If you want to quickly get to the heart of all reviews and paint the clearest possible image of how you’re doing, you need to approach online criticism like something of a math equation.

Consider three reviews: one overwhelmingly positive, one neutral, and one negative. Compare all three, and look for the common elements. Does the overwhelmingly positive review have something in common with the neutral review, like a positive employee encounter? If it does, you can rest assured the referenced employee is truly doing a great job.

Likewise, does the negative review share something in common with the neutral review? Would the neutral review have been more positive were it not for X, which is also present in that one-star comment by a disgruntled customer? If so, then you’re looking at a genuine point of contention that should be fixed as soon as possible.

Online reviews are inherently valuable thanks to the equal voice they give everyone, from the people who love your business to the people who don’t and everyone in between. People have an instinct to wash their hands of online reviews due to their anonymous nature and the grand emotions that are on display, but this is a mistake. So long as you know exactly what you’re looking for and how to find the grain of truth hidden in that emotion, you come away with valuable, actionable information you can use to make your company better moving forward.

4 Mistakes You Could Be Making With Your Offline Marketing

Hispanic businessman leaning head on wall

Do you think offline marketing is obsolete? It isn’t…not by a long shot. In fact, you need to pay just as close attention to your offline marketing as you do to your online marketing in order to achieve success.

Used in conjunction with online marketing, offline marketing can help ensure your message gets across to your audience in a variety of ways, making it more likely they will become customers. However, you have to go about offline marketing the right way for it to be effective.

Here are four mistakes you could be making with your offline marketing and how to correct them.

1. Not Using the Phone Book

Believe it or not, people still have landline phones, and many of them still use the phone book. You may have heard others say that people just toss the phone book into the recycling bin now and never use it. However, many people prefer to look things up alphabetically in a phone book, where it’s nice and simple.

Make sure you’re not just listed in the phone book, but also have a nice, attractive print ad accompanying your listing. People are more likely to call the businesses with nice-looking print ads than those that don’t have them.

2. Giving Up on Direct Mail

What’s the point of using direct mail when you have the Internet, right? Well, the point is that people still appreciate the personal touch an attractively printed card in the mail gives them. It shows you care enough to take the time to get a contact’s information and send them a card the old-fashioned way. People can take their time looking over a direct mail ad, considering it for days or longer before making a decision. Direct mail gets results.

3. Not Carrying Business Cards

Business cards are still the accepted professional way to introduce yourself and your business to other businesspeople. They’re an industry must at trade shows and a courteous thing to provide to new contacts. Don’t just assume everyone is going to type your contact information into their smart phone when they meet you. Most people don’t have the time. Get good-looking business cards printed up. Include your phone number, email, and website, and hand them out to everyone you meet. An attractive business card still commands respect in the business world.

4. Avoiding Community Bulletin Boards

All of those flyers and business cards posted on community bulletin boards get more attention than you’d think. Flyers get the most attention because they’re large and easy to see. Print some bright, eye-catching ones with engaging graphics and a bold phone number in plain sight. Before you know it, your phone will start ringing with new customers. You’ll probably get some new ones coming through your door, too.

Offline marketing is still important. It works best when used in conjunction with an online marketing campaign, so you can reach more people and present a unified message. Make sure your ads are attractive, engaging, and intriguing, and you’ll get new customers from them.

New Lessons from Seventh Grade Physics

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The seventh grade physics class sat in their classroom eagerly listening to their teacher explain their next project. The class would be divided into 5 groups of 5 students. Each group would have three class sessions to design and test a small rolling car. They would all be given a variety of materials to use to design this car. After spending three days on design, there would be a competition to see whose car would roll the farthest. The winner would be automatically granted an A on a quiz that would be administered on the Friday after the competition.

A chance to get an automatic A on a quiz? That was quite the incentive. The class eagerly organized themselves into their groups and began discussing possible car designs. They called upon all the teacher had already taught them about physics and began running formulas to find the perfect intersection of weight and size.

Meanwhile, the teacher looked around the classroom contently. Getting the class fully engaged and interested was always a challenge. This competition had brought everyone to life, however, and the entire class seemed to be actively using the material taught to help their teams. This was definitely an outstanding way to engage the class.

What can we learn from this class?

Like the students in this class, most of us enjoy a little friendly competition. When we desire the reward, we become much more interested in the subject matter at hand. The same principles apply to marketing and branding. Customers love competition, and it can be an excellent way to keep people engaged with your brand.

Competitions can be used in a variety of circumstances.

  • Before a product launch, to bring customers through the pre-launch activities
  • To build excitement for something new the company will be trying
  • To build engagement with existing products and services

Say you’re about to open a new store location. You could send out a series of direct mail flyers telling people about the store. You could then invite people to save each of the flyers for an opportunity to earn a free prize at the new store when they bring in all the flyers on opening day. This will encourage people to keep an eye out for your flyers and come to your opening day.

Competitions are also effective online. Consider holding competitions on your social media pages. Encourage people to submit stories of their experiences with your products and services for a chance to be entered in a drawing to win a prize or discount.

People enjoy competition as a way to win prizes, and companies love them as a means of engaging with potential customers. Just like the teacher of 7th grade physics class used a competition to get students interested in the subject, you can use competition to boost sales. Consider the different types of competitions and prizes that would fit with your brand, and see which ones would work best for your goals. If you’re interested in getting a new marketing campaign off the ground, give us a call. We’d be happy to help you get started. 410-574-0780.

Using Instagram to Market Your Business

Collage of nine photos of vintage object
Collage of nine photos of vintage object

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms right now. As such, it’s the perfect showcase for your business. With so many people using Instagram, you need to stand out to make an impact with your audience and gain new, devoted followers. This means thinking outside the box. Here are four extraordinary ways to use Instagram to boost your company’s success.

1. Show New and Innovative Uses for Your Products

Most of your customers and followers already know what your products can do, or at least what they were initially made to do. However, you can increase user engagement tremendously by showcasing lesser-known things your products can do. Come up with some novel and innovative uses for your products, then post photos of your products being used in those new and interesting ways. Take it a step further by inviting your followers to come up with their own new and interesting uses for your products. Have them send you photos for possible inclusion on your Instagram page. Make it a contest, and award a prize for the most unique and/or useful suggestion submitted via photo. You’ll get a lot more participants and new followers, which is exactly what you’re after.

2. Show Your Production Process

Give your followers a behind-the-scenes tour of your production space, office, store, and other places where the magic of creating your product happens. Show them what a day in the life of one of your employees looks like. Don’t limit your images to just production. Show employee-only areas like cubicles, on-site gyms and daycare facilities, lunch areas, meeting spaces, common areas, and more. Include images of employees interacting with each other in both a businesslike and playful manner. Showcase each individual employee with a mini-bio (your employees will love this recognition). Give your followers an idea of what goes on at your company, and strengthen their loyalty to you by making your relationship with them more intimate and personal.

3. Include Celebrities

Our culture loves celebrities. If you can get an image of a celebrity sighting in your area, put it on your Instagram page. Whether it has anything to do with your product or not, it’s sure to get a lot of views. People who come by to view the celebrity image will probably take the time to look at the rest of your Instagram page, leading to more followers and fans for your product.

4. Use the Power of Animals

Just like celebrities can’t help but bring views to your Instagram page, animals have a similar power. Share images of cute animals you find that you like. Post photos of your employees’ pets (bonus points if the pets are at your office). If you can get an image of someone’s pet using your product in some way (even playing with it), your followers will love it, and it will attract new views. As with celebrity images, these new views may very well turn into new followers.

These are just a few ways you can creatively use Instagram to your advantage. Make sure your business has an Instagram presence, then make the most of it. Use these suggestions, and watch your views and follower numbers soar.

Confusing Directions and Confusing Advertisements

3d road sign saying three ways
3d road sign saying three ways

Driving somewhere new always comes with a certain level of stress. Even with GPS, there are worries about getting lost, ending up in the wrong location, or otherwise having a bad experience. When someone gives you directions, whether you enter them into your GPS or they get scribbled down on a notepad, you expect them to be clear and direct and help you get where you need to go.

Imagine there’s a new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, so you call and get directions over the phone. You jot them down, as the GPS has not been working well. You know the general part of town where the restaurant can be found, but you haven’t actually been there, so you feel a little nervous looking the directions over.

You get in your car and start driving. Surprisingly, the directions seem to be taking you in the opposite direction of where you need to go. You decide to continue follow them a bit. The directions have you circle back around and eventually start heading in the right direction, but you have now wasted 20 minutes. After a few more odd turns, however, you find yourself in a part of town you don’t recognize, and you become increasingly frustrated. Eventually, starving and annoyed, you give up and head home, stopping at your favorite place to eat right by your house.

By giving unclear directions, that restaurant just lost your business.

What we as marketers can learn from this experience

Your customers want — and need — clear instructions from you about what to do. When you create marketing campaigns and landing pages, you want to make sure they’re simple and easy to use. If you have pages that are busy or confusing, or if your pages have multiple calls to action, you’re going to lose customers.

This desire for simplicity is known as the Law of Pragnanz. People appreciate layouts and designs that require the fewest cognitive processes. We all naturally interpret things according to the simplest explanation.

Using this desire for clear directions in marketing

Creating advertisements that lack a clear path of what the visitor is expected to do can be as frustrating as the directions you received to get to the restaurant. You didn’t know where to turn and — in the end — just gave up. Chances are, if you were still looking for a product or service, you would’ve just gone to a competitor (like the favorite restaurant in our story).

All of your marketing materials should be designed to provide clear guidelines and instructions for your customers. Don’t be coy about what you’re actually hoping customers will do. Be upfront about the purpose of your advertisements and what customers will get from you. This will help improve your conversion rates and the success of your marketing campaigns.

Too many companies find themselves trying to make advertisements with multiple calls to action or with formats that are so confusing no one knows where they should click first. Keep it simple and work to create landing pages and advertisements that are clear and straightforward to follow. You’ll keep your customers happy and improve your conversion rates.

Understanding How Consumers’ Brains Think

Thinking man with notebook computer
Thinking man with notebook computer

Interestingly, the part of the brain most responsible for making buying decisions isn’t the part that thinks logically. We make the majority of our decisions using what is commonly referred to as the “reptilian brain.” This part of the brain is programmed for survival. It’s perpetually evaluating choices based on the least possible harm to itself. Even when it’s deciding whether or not to buy a product from you, it’s performing a cost/benefit analysis.

When you understand this truth about your customers (and the human brain), you can use it to guide your advertisements and how you frame your business to your audience.

How perceived ‘costs’ impact customer buying patterns

Let’s say you’ve just built a landing page where people can sign up to download a free ebook. Even though you’re not asking for money in exchange for your ebook, you want to keep the ‘cost’ as low as possible. If you ask for too much unnecessary information, your customers will regard this as a cost. Even if you mark most of the fields optional, a shocking number of people will just click off the page and ignore the offer.

To minimize this perceived cost, minimize the amount of information you ask in return for your offer. Remember that you can always learn more about potential leads in later interactions, so only ask for the bare minimum of information at this initial stage.

This same sort of thinking should also impact how you frame sales and deals. Use each interaction to demonstrate that doing business with you will provide maximum reward for minimum cost.

Framing the benefits

In addition to its desire to minimize costs, the reptilian brain also wants to maximize benefits. It responds best to images, emotion, and concrete examples of benefits.

When you set out to describe the benefits of working with your company, make sure your claims are completely clear. Articulate exactly how working with your company can benefit your customers and why your company is superior to the competition. This means providing evidence and proof you offer immediate satisfaction for your customers.

The brain is a fascinating structure. Although many people think of it as a single entity, there are actually different parts that respond best to different ideas. Despite the desire of most people to be logical shoppers, they actually make their choices largely based on cost/benefit analysis. Use this tendency in your marketing and witness firsthand the power of this part of the brain.